Why Do We Want Non-White Protagonists in Teen and Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy?
Teens are acutely aware of differences, whether it’s due to color, race, religion, size, gender or sexual preference. No one wants to be too different than the crowd. Oh, teens talk about being an individual, of having their own identity, but no one strays too far from the “in” or “cool” crowd’s opinions.
Teens of Color are perhaps even more aware of being different, because during their walk through life in a sea of “White”, they are always the ones that stands out as being “different” from the White society that surrounds them.
It is difficult for the majority White culture to truly be aware of this. To put it simply, “Is a fish aware of the water it swims in?”
The answer, of course, is, “NO”.
The world of Science Fiction and Fantasy is filled with wonderful stories and characters. Unfortunately, too many of those characters are based on the whitebread English or American image of the Science Fiction movie or TV star. Think A Princess of Mars and John Carter; Star Wars and Luke; The Lord of the Rings and Frodo; Narnia and its very British children; Dr. Who, again a very British protagonist; and so on. There are, of course, exceptions to this, but in general Sci-Fi is a genre steeped in White. Now, there is nothing wrong with a White male main character. Of course not! Some of the best Science Fiction and Fantasy ever written features White male protagonists. The problem is that's pretty much ALL you'll find in the world's greatest Sci-Fi -- White and male.
"I continued to read science fiction and fantasy throughout my childhood, young adult, and adult life. But, eventually, I caught on to the fact that although I could identify in many ways with the characters in science fiction and fantasy novels, in one important way I was missing. Where were the Black authors and characters who blazed across the galaxy, spilled into dimensions of space, and warped through time?" Yolanda Hood, assistant professor and youth librarian at Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa. http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/v36n3/pdf/hood.pdf
Ms Hood is right, where are the characters that our teens will identify with?
Sadly, Sci-Fi is a wasteland when you're looking for a non-White protagonist or main characters. There is a pervasive belief among publishers that People of Color don’t read nor write Sci-Fi and Fantasy. This is an amazing misconception, since up to one third of the attendees at Science Fiction and comic book conventions are People of Color.
When we begin to search for Science Fiction and Fantasy books to give to teens, we want them to have positive influences, good characterizations, plenty of action to keep the story interesting, and – perhaps an alien thought to the non-POC reader – we want characters and protagonists who look like them. We want characters who are olive or brown or black, who are Asian or Black or Latino/Hispanic or Native American, and depicted in a positive manner. We don’t want the only Person of Color in the book to be the bad guy. Unless, of course, he/she turns into a good guy in the end.
Most of the authors I’ve featured on this website have written many other books and some of their works may be featured on the "Everything Else" page. Most of these books already reside on the shelves in my extensive personal library or were recommended to me by other writers. I’ve tried to note the books that are not suitable for a young teen, since some books do include more sex and violence than the average teen/young adult novel.
A few cautionary words for parents: With the upsurge of Kindle and eBooks, there are an increasing number of self-published books available online. Some are quite good and, honestly, some are not. When searching for appropriate books for your teen, I would urge you to read the book first to ensure that the content is not offensive to your own moral and ethical standards.
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